Announcements, a run-through of the day’s calendar or maybe the Pledge of Allegiance.
But in Chris Ulmer’s classroom, the day starts off with 10 minutes of compliments.
In a video posted to Facebook that’s been shared more than 8,000 times since it was posted on Sunday, Ulmer takes the time to pay several compliments to each and every one of the eight students in his special education classroom at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida.
“I love having you in my class. I think you’re very funny. You’re a great soccer player. Everyone in here loves you,” Ulmer says to the kids as they each take their turn standing in front of the class, facing Ulmer.
Ulmer said he’s been posting videos — with the kids’ parents’ permission — almost every day, but this one, which he “spent about 10 minutes editing,” has really resonated with the public. “I actually didn’t think a whole lot about this one before posting it. It’s just something we do.”
Ulmer’s Facebook page, Special Books by Special Kids, was created because he has been trying, unsuccessfully, to get a book published about the kids. “I have 50 rejection letters on my fridge to keep me motivated,” he said. The book focuses on the story of each of the kids in his classroom and is collaboratively told by the child, his or her parents, and from Ulmer’s perspective as their teacher.
He’s had the same kids in his class for three years and said that they’ve “evolved as a family. We have an understanding that comes with time that you don’t naturally have.”
In his first year of teaching, he said, each day had a theme, like “Monday Funday” and “Toast Tuesday,” which is when the affirmations began. “I noticed the kids were always more motivated, happier and better behaved on Tuesdays. So we started doing it every day.”
“They all came from a segregated environment [from general education students]. Now they’re participating in school activities, dancing in front of hundreds of other kids and in the debate club.” And while Ulmer agrees academics are important, he thought it even more important to reverse the psychological damage that came from being made to feel like outcasts.
And if a publisher never comes, Ulmer is committed to telling his students’ stories on social media to educate the masses about what life is like in their shoes. “Everyone has their quirks, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “We give ignorance a free pass. There is no excuse for a lack of empathy.”